CEDAR RAPIDS — A jury awarded a former Lisbon High wrestler $150,000 in damages Thursday in his lawsuit against the school district for negligence after he was physically and sexually assaulted by other wrestlers in 2011.
A jury found in favor of Donald Santee IV, now 22, who testified during the four-day trial in Linn County District Court about how he was held down, at age 15, in a locker room as his teammates placed their exposed genitals on his face in November and again in December 2011.
Criminal complaints filed in 2012 show one former Lisbon High wrestler, Dakota VanDyke, then 18, was charged with misdemeanor assault for urinating on Santee in 2011. He entered an Alford plea and received a deferred judgment.
Two juveniles were also charged for holding down Santee and placing their exposed genitals on his face, according to criminal complaints. And another charge against an 18-year-old was dismissed in the case.
Under Iowa’s comparative fault law, a jury has to find a percentage of fault for the plaintiff and defendant in certain civil cases. This jury found the school district was 60 percent to blame for the assaults and Santee was responsible for 40 percent, likely because he didn’t report the incidents right away. The jury found $150,000 in damages but Santee will receive about $90,000 or so, based on the fault breakdown.
“Sure the money damages are nice but I think Donnie would say he wished it hadn’t happened at all,” Steve Hamilton, Santee’s Des Moines attorney, said Friday. “This caused him mental anxiety and he has suffered and still has post traumatic stress disorder.”
Hamilton said the wrestlers had been doing this to their teammates since at least 2009, according to testimony during the civil trial. The incidents happened because the students were alone without supervision from abut 3:20 to 4 p.m. every day before the wrestling coach arrived and practice started, he said.
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Hamilton said the school should have “taken a firmer grip on the situation.” The district did take action once it learned of the incidents involving Santee, which Hamilton admits the teen didn’t report right away.
“This would be disgraceful and demeaning to any young man,” Hamilton said. “No others reported being assaulted, even though they admitted it happened, but Donnie really took this to heart and it bothered him.”
Santee left school after reporting the incidents and was home schooled the rest of the year, and then transferred to another district, Hamilton said.
Hamilton made the argument that the school was negligent because there was a lack of discipline and supervision for these students. During this time, the students would roughhouse and play dodgeball in the locker room. During dodgeball, they damaged school property by breaking out ceiling lights, he noted.
According to testimony, the wrestlers were told by their coach not to play dodgeball, but none of the school officials admitted knowing about the assaultive behavior.
Hamilton didn’t know why the wrestlers participated in these “demeaning” assaults, he said, but in taking depositions he found out it had been going on for many years.
“Of the 2011 (wrestling) roster, there were probably 80 to almost 100 percent that had done it (assaults) to others or had it done to them,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he thinks Santee felt good that he stood up for himself and did the “right thing” after the verdict came in Thursday.
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Terry Abernathy, Cedar Rapids attorney for the Lisbon Community School District, didn’t return an email request for comment Friday.
In Abernathy’s trial brief, he argued the school district shouldn’t be held liable because there is no evidence the school district knew or could have known the wrestlers would assault Santee. There was no evidence that similar incidents were reported or ignored by the district, he said.
Abernathy also said there was no evidence the students behaved in a way to make district officials suspect Santee or others would be at risk for this type of assault.
This was the second trial in this case because the first trial in July 2015 ended in a mistrial after Santee unintentionally talked to one of the jurors during a court break.
The juror didn’t speak to Santee and reported the incident to the court. Abernathy asked for a mistrial and Sixth Judicial District Judge Chad Kepros granted it and reset the trial.
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